The Story of the Two Sons

Matthew 21 vs. 28-32

28But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. 29He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. 30And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. 31Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.(King James Version)

Imperfect life

Which of us can say that we lead a perfect life? The answer is "none." Even those who do not believe in God have a conscience that tells them right from wrong, until they are hardened to sin. Fortunately God sent us and sends us people of good character to help us understand the right way to walk in this life. One such example from the past was John the Baptist. He didn't come with signs and wonders but came with a pure heart devoted to God. He not only talked about what was right but lived the life of law and faith.

John's message of repentance

God gave John a special two-fold ministry. The first was to go to Israel and preach righteousness to the people. He was to prepare the people of Israel for the coming of their Messiah. Everyone from the high-priest to the harlot on the street corner needed to purify their hearts. The first step was to repent. To turn to God and his way. What he gave to the people was practical knowledge. The words he spoke could be plainly understood, to be from God, for those who had ears to hear.

The second part of his ministry is to witness that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah of Israel.

Confession with the mouth

In the first part of this parable we see that a father asks his sons to do some work. The first agrees to go. It is a good confession. However I am reminded of that verse which says, "this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me," Isaiah 29.13. Confession with the mouth is good but it has to have heart. The second son however does not want to go to the fields. This second son seems to be self-willed and disobedient. I can see the picture of a father being upset with the second son. "Why can't he be like my first son and be obedient to my will?

Actions reflect the heart

The second son, the one whose words disappointed his father, it is he that has a change of heart for the better. He repents and goes to the field to do the work his father asked of him. As for the first born? Perhaps he did have the intention to do the work. Did the first son repent... in the wrong direction? Or perhaps he had no intention of going at all? The point is that he did not go. It is as Jesus said, "by their fruits you shall know them." In this case, whether you believe the fruits are, good works or a good heart, the second son eventually had it. The first son did not.

Priests and elders

These are the first son. With their mouths they confess all the good things that are written in The Law. In fact they make a great show of their piety. Prayers in the market place and giving alms before men so they can receive a good witness. These are the leaders. They are the first of the people. Through this story he tells them he condemns their actions. They have such a wonderful confession but when God asks them to believe they turn their backs on the truth.

Publicans and harlots

Publicans ( Jewish people who collect taxes for Rome) and prostitutes are the second son. They heard what God had written in his covenant. It was spoken to them in the synagogues and the temple. If they couldn't enter these places I am certain that one or two of the "first sons" would go out of their way to point out their faults. They knew, because of their circumstance or a hard heart, that they would not obey "The Law." Oh, what wicked people, tax collectors and adulterers. Yet through this story Jesus points out to those around him that when God asks them to believe they repent and do as God asks.

Evidence - changed life

Though the priests and elders had a show of living a good life they fell short. John showed this to them and they did not repent. They did not change the way they lived. Yet what John asked of them was to live a closer life with God. Though they confess with their mouths, a yes to God's way, they actually don't. Their lives are not changed. They remain in their imperfect little world.

The Publicans and harlots? They heard the preaching of John. They wanted a better life with God. They accepted the fact that they don't walk with God and accept the free gift that John offers them. What is the gift? Forgiveness of sins. The washing away of their stain and their guilt through baptism. They are the people who are preparing themselves for the Messiah. They are getting right with God.

Hard hearts

The priests and elders knew John's testimony. They didn't want to believe he was from God. They liked their life and their interpretation of the law. They were seeing a true miracles displayed before them. What was this miracle? John preached to the lost sheep of Israel and they were repenting in droves. Countless people were confessing their sins. They submitted to baptism. Multitudes displayed a changed life. Yet the priests and elders would not accept that this was from God. Their hearts were like a rock and their heads were like flint in stubbornness. Because their hearts were so hard they were trapped in their unbelief. They did not have the faith that would say "amen" to the work being done among them. They confess that they will work in the field but they don't understand how God works. This is why Jesus calls them "blind guides."

Is the first son lost?

No, they are not lost, yet! They still have a chance. They still need to have their hearts changed. They need to repent. They need to be baptized. They need to get ready for the Messiah. Those that do will be accepted into the kingdom of God, late, but not lost. Those who will not get ready risk being lost. Know this, the Messiah they seek is already standing before them and the doors to the kingdom are about to be opened.


In the end I believe this story shows that God is dynamic. He still has a testimony in the world. Where his word is preached there are signs and wonders. And the wonder sometimes are masses of people repenting and coming to the Lord. I hope that when God calls out to you... that you will in the end believe... and go do the Father's will.

First or last... just be there.

Author: Joseph A Raymond
2 February 2011

commentary index page

Webite administrator: Joseph A Raymond
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada